- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 26, 2005

Arnaud de Borchgrave’s March 15 column “See no evil,” attacking our asylum system, included errors, misleading statements, and (unsurprisingly) mistaken conclusions.

Perhaps the author’s fears prevent him from thinking more clearly. This is dangerous, as it leads the United States to crack down on people fleeing from terror — instead of terrorists.

A few corrections:

Mr. de Borchgrave wrote, “For the last year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Operation Liberty Shield has been detaining asylum applicants from countries where al Qaeda and other terrorists originate.” This mischaracterizes the program which, in any case, was cancelled by then-DHS Secretary Tom Ridge almost two years ago — less than a month after it started in March 2003.

Mr. de Borchgrave mentions “more than 50 Muslim countries where bin Laden outpolls George W. Bush in the Pew Foundation’s surveys of Global Attitudes Toward the U.S.” Actually, the Pew surveyed 50 populations, of which about nine were Muslim. Pew noted that in some Muslim countries it studied, such as Turkey, “bin Laden is highly unpopular.”

Mr. de Borchgrave says 70,000 asylum-seekers were admitted last year. In fact, the United States granted 25,258 people asylum in fiscal 2004, according to U.S. government statistics.

Mr. de Borchgrave cites no source for his contention 50 percent of the 70,000 “submitted false documents.” Some asylum-seekers are forced to use false documents to escape their countries — like Jews who fled the Nazis with the help of false papers supplied by Raoul Wallenberg. We do not believe 50 percent do so. In any case, this would be quite different from submitting false documents to support an asylum claim.

Refugees are not assigned a certain number of “slots” for family members when they get status, contrary to what de Borchgrave implies. They must list family members on applying.

Mr. de Borchgrave described Abdulrahman Alamoudi as an “honored guest” at the Clinton White House. He did not mention, as Fox News reported in 2001, Hillary Clinton returned a campaign contribution from Mr. Alamoudi in 2000, and more than a year later, Mr. Alamoudi was indeed honored by President Bush, who invited him to the White House for a prayer service dedicated to victims of September 11.

Mr. de Borchgrave did not cite a source for asserting that “94 percent of aliens from terrorist-supporting countries who were released from immigration detention were never found again and never deported.” Compared to public, accurate statistics, that seems way off. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government body, reported last month 22 percent of asylum-seekers released from detention fail to show for their hearings. A disproportionate number went on to Canada, where they preferred to apply. No-shows are cause for concern, but they are unlikely to be terrorists. All asylum-seekers are fingerprinted and subject to extensive background checks. Seeking asylum is an uncertain, dangerous choice for a terrorist.

The Executive Office of Immigration Review, the Justice Department office that houses the immigration courts, reported 4,287 claims were abandoned out of 67,370 cases in fiscal 2003, a no-show rate of only 6.4 percent. For fiscal 2004, a no-show rate of 5.7 percent was reported. While anything less than a 100 percent appearance is cause for concern, this is nothing like 94 percent. And we know of no evidence the rate differs for “terrorist-supporting countries.”

Mr. de Borchgrave and I, like other Americans, need genuine protection against terrorists. Going after the wrong people not only hurts them (and often violates their human rights), it puts us in greater danger because it draws resources away from real antiterrorist work.


Refugee Advocate

Amnesty International USA

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